I thought I'd start my new shift with one of my favorite topics: LUV.
Fantasy writers dance a fine line between asking our readers to suspend belief and compelling them to accept a core of truth in our fiction. One of the keys to making fantasy work is crafting authentic characters who interact with each other in very human ways, even as they travel through time, cast magical spells, or ride on the backs of dragons.
Love is a wonderfully complex human interaction, involving joy, desire, jealousy, awkwardness, beauty, despair, and more besides. When well played, love and romance can greatly enrich any story and even provide the fulcrum around which all other events revolve. Played poorly, romantic elements can be very annoying and detract from enjoyment of the story.
Every reader has their limits in terms of what they're willing to accept in a fictionalized romance. Indeed, entire genres are devoted to crafting romances that are anything but real, because that is precisely what their readers want.
For my part, few things get under my skin more than unrealistic romantic situations in fiction. So as an author, I try to craft the romantic elements of my stories in ways that reflect a more authentic human experience. Here are a few tips I keep in mind when sending Cupid's arrow into the hearts of my characters. I hope you will find them useful for your own craft.
Allowing Awkwardness and Uncertainty.
Being in the presence of someone with whom we are falling in love often generates anxiety. In my experience this is just as true for men as it is for women. Rarely do we allow ourselves to believe, from the get-go, that the newly discovered Stunning Other will be as interested in us as we are in him or her. Yet we want to get noticed, make a good impression, gain that person's confidence in the hopes of igniting mutual admiration. How to do this without running the risk of putting them off entirely?
A great degree of tension exists between the impulse to open our hearts and the actual caution with which we act in the opening chapters of a romance. We don't want to make a fool of ourselves or worse, drive the Stunning Other away. This stage of intense emotion and high perceived risk can pack enough tension for an entire story, drawing your reader forward on the never ending hope that at some point someone will say something, and true love will erupt onto the scene.
Indulging in illusion.
The first stages of falling in love are a golden period for the object of our desire. More often than not, we don't know that person too well. As a result, he or she becomes a blank canvas, and on that canvas our imaginations paint the perfect partner.
I play with the power of illusion a lot in my novels, allowing characters to believe many things about the object of their desires that may or may not match up with the real person. Coming to terms with the truth about that Stunning Other is not always easy or pleasant. The end of illusion can often destroy a romance, but it can also strengthen that love beyond measure. Wondering how a fictional couple will assimilate the inevitable end of illusion is another great source of tension for any story.
Building the friendship.
Really, I can't stress this point enough. Let your couple be friends as well as lovers. They need to share not only the big quests and great adventures, but also the small hopes, hidden dreams, and minor annoyances that fill day-to-day life. Part of your character's experience should be the journey of discovering the love interest as a person. This is just as important, perhaps more so, as the great seductive moments that set our hearts aflutter.
One key to making this work is ensuring that no character appears in your story for the sole purpose of being a love interest. Each character, man or woman, must be the center of their own hopes, desires, challenges, triumphs, and failures. In order to be discovered as a person, he or she must be a person in their own right.
Love does not change who we are.
Here I'm touching on a pet peeve of mine, a theme I see repeated in movies, some stories (not the ones I read anymore), Spanish telenovelas, and so on: the redemptive power of love. A bully can be tamed by a quiet girl's affection. A womanizer just needs to find "the right one". Examples go on and on, but the message is the same: "Any jerk can be fixed by true love." In a similar vein, we've discussed on this blog cases where forthright, courageous, independent women characters are transformed into passive agents when they fall in love.
Love can influence our life decisions in profound ways, and the presence of a loved one often makes us act differently from what we might have done otherwise. Many of us modify our behavior to a certain extent, or grow as persons as a result of love. Yet love stops short at changing the fundamental tenets of our personalities. Who we are - at the core - is remarkably constant. The same needs to be true for your characters.
Love does not equal destiny.
A hard nut to swallow, but just because two people love each other does not necessarily mean they are destined to be together. If you can throw out the assumption that two characters in love will actually be together - or even should be together - in the end, you will not only up the tension for your reader, you may give them a more satisfying finale. After all, that which rings true is often deeply moving.
Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich